Harleysville veteran rebounds from life-threatening motorcycle crash
Jason (“Jake”) Leone and Taryn Conzelman met online two years ago during COVID and enjoyed a first date in a local park over hoagies. Their courtship included lots of laughs, an engagement ring, and a gift that Conzelman gave to Leone: His first Harley-Davidson motorcycle. “It was the best gift I ever got,” Leone says.
It was early summer when Leone and his friend, Justin, went for a leisurely motorcycle ride through the country roads near Bally and East Greenville. They were headed back to Leone’s Harleysville cabin when they rounded a curve. Leone felt the back tire of his Harley skid. “I did what you’re never supposed to do and looked down,” he says.
His motorcycle swerved and stopped dead, sinking in a patch of mud and muck. Leone flew over the handlebars, wrapping his body around a road sign. “I broke eight ribs. Punctured my lungs in two spots. Lacerated my spleen. And hurt my pride,” he says.
Justin called 9-1-1 and then contacted Conzelman to tell her the news.
“When the EMS crew realized the severity of my injury, they decided they weren’t going to be able to just drive me.” says Leone. Meanwhile Conzelman had pinged Leone’s phone and arrived on the scene just as Leone was loaded into a PennStar medical helicopter. “I was able to touch him and say, “I’m here.” she says. “Seeing him in that way was the worst thing ever.” Moments later, he was airlifted to Grand View Health, a Level ll Adult Trauma Center.
“There were times in the ditch and in the helicopter when I just said to myself, “Man, I can’t die like this,” Leone says.
The trauma team was ready and waiting when Leone arrived. “He had a life-threatening condition called a tension pneumothorax, also known as a punctured lung,” says trauma surgeon David Scaff, DO, “With every breath, his lung was collapsing.”
The trauma team inserted a chest tube and stitched up lacerations in Leone’s right arm. But a further medical workup revealed another concern: his badly broken ribs. Dr. Scaff gave Leone two options: To wait several months for the ribs to heal on their own, or to use a newer treatment called rib plating. It’s a surgery that uses titanium plating to stabilize broken ribs.
“Dr. Scaff said that the surgery could help me heal quicker with less pain,” Leone says. “He showed me videos and explained the procedure, and we decided it was the best option.”
During the two-and-a-half-hour procedure, Dr. Scaff inserted a camera inside Leone’s chest, identified each broken rib segment, realigned them and fused them back together. “The next day, Jason was sore, but he was able to stand up, shake my hand and move around,” Dr. Scaff says.
Nine days after the accident, Leone returned home.
“For as terrible an experience as my accident was, from the moment I got to Grand View, I felt like I was going to live,” Leone says. “Dr. Scaff checked in with us every morning. If I was sleeping, he’d check in with Taryn and tell us what the plan was for the next 24-48 hours.”
Within two months, Leone returned to work and his not-for-profit, Vets for Vets, which supports military veterans returning to civilian life. A military veteran, Leone also continues to serve in the Air Force National Guard. “If there’s going to be someone defending our country, Jason is the guy you want,” Dr. Scaff says.
“I’m so thankful to have them in our community” Conzelman says of the team at Grand View. “I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like if I had to travel an hour each way to see him on top of working, taking care of our dogs and our farm.” Leone adds, “Having her here was extremely valuable to my state of mind and recovery”.
And while Leone and Conzelman are working through wedding plans, right now, they’re just grateful to be together. “We feel like we learned through this what’s important,” Conzelman says. “We’re pretty lucky.” Leone bows his head adding, “One hundred percent. We’re blessed.”